The two-year-old student campaign for the divestment of fossil fuels is an issue for which the Student Body Senate should take some responsibility. The upcoming forum on political neutrality represents precisely such an opportunity.
As fossil fuel emissions accelerate worldwide, the United States government continues to militate against the effective regulation of fossil fuel industry. Under the influence of immense industry lobbying and campaign contributions, the notion of anthropogenic climate change has become a joke in Congress. After all, even the universities have staked their financial fates on the bet that Congress will never put serious limits on fossil fuel extraction into effect.
Fossil fuel divestment is a movement to undo institutional support for the corrupting political power of fossil fuels. Over the last two years, more than a third of the student body has taken positions and actions in support of the divestment of our school’s endowment from fossil fuels. Dozens of students have participated in meetings with the Board of Trustees to argue for this position — something that rarely happens on any issue. Fossil fuel divestment has been discussed by students and alumni in The Quest, The Grail, Reed Magazine, The Portland Tribune, Willamette Weekly, Facebook, LinkedIn, and elsewhere. Two Reed Unions have been held on the topic.
Despite the tremendous amount of community engagement on the issue and massive support for divestment, the Student Body Senate has failed to take responsibility for attending to this issue. Rather, the Senate has proceeded as if this critical issue fails to warrant their attention, engagement, or meaningful action. Nonetheless, divestment clearly falls squarely within the Senate’s raison d’etre: it affects past, present, and future student bodies, the character of the College, and is mediated by policy and the administration.
This summer, the Chair of Reed’s Board of Trustees Roger Perlmutter announced that in order to maintain the political neutrality of the institution, Reed College must continue to invest tens of millions of dollars in fossil fuel industry. Indeed, political neutrality features centrally in the mission of the college, as a protection of academic freedom. This raises questions of serious and general import: Is fossil fuel investment politically neutral? Are practices for inclusion and accessibility, like the programs of the MRC or policies like the DHSM, politically charged — and should they therefore be opposed?
To explore these questions, Fossil Free Reed and DiversIfY are hosting a forum this coming Thursday, March 12, at 5 P.M. in Vollum Lounge on political neutrality at Reed College. It should be clear that political neutrality is a question that cuts across a variety of current issues pertaining to students, faculty, and the administration. For this reason it is imperative that the Student Body Senate participate. The Senate is principally responsible for advocating for administrative reforms on behalf of the student body. This is an opportunity for the Senate to take that responsibility seriously with respect to the variety of issues that are currently dismissed under the legerdemain of “political neutrality.”
The above letter to the editor can also be found here.